A person applying a pesticide to their land was recently fined for spray drift that damaged desirable shrubs and garden crops on a neighboring property. In two other recent cases, individuals were fined for improper pesticide storage and illegal disposal of pesticide containers. Each of these cases had one thing in common: a failure to follow the pesticide label.

“The pesticide label is not something you can glance through or read once and commit to memory,” says Jack Peterson, associate director, Environmental Services Division, Arizona Department of Agriculture. “It is a legal document, and any use inconsistent with the label is a federal and state offense.”

There are countless good reasons for reading and following the label and having it immediately accessible. Here are some of the unfortunate (and illegal) consequences that can happen when you don’t:

1) You may apply the wrong product…or the right product at the wrong rate. Various brands and packaging can look similar, but the products may be very different – containing different active ingredients or concentrations. Make sure the product contains the desired active ingredient(s), and use the application rate the label specifies. The rate will vary based on the specific concentration(s) of the active ingredient(s) found in the product.

2) You won’t know if the label has changed since the last time you purchased the product. Labels can change at any time, so read the label each time you buy a product, and every time you use it, even if you think you know the product well.

3) The site you are treating might not be on the label. “Sites” include everything from specific crops, turf species and ornamentals to foundations, indoor surfaces, and pets. There are important reasons a product cannot be applied on certain sites – for example, it may injure certain plants, pose toxicity concerns to people, result in unacceptable pesticide residues on food or feed crops, or lack sufficient research data.

4) You might apply a product that doesn’t control your pest(s). It is not enough to know the product type (herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, etc.); you must also look at what weeds, insects, diseases or other pests are on the label, and know what pests you have.

5) You might mix products that are incompatible. The label may tell you if certain products can or cannot be mixed, and how to test for compatibility of products that are not listed on the label.